Humility, Nobility, and a Scent of Urine
Posted by Neal on March 18, 2008
You know the feeling when you walk into your son’s room and find yourself wondering, “What’s that smell? It smells like … cat urine!”? Sure you do. We all do.
And you walk around sniffing, trying to figure out where it’s coming from, but you can’t quite pinpoint it, so you decide it must have been your imagination? And then you leave, and the next time you go in there, the smell hits you again? We’ve all been there.
That’s how I felt in fifth grade when our music teacher would have us sing “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” from the musical of that name. It’s not that I disliked the song. It was actually a good tune, as were “Fifty Nifty (United States)” and “Milk’s the Soft Soft Drink”, two other songs Mrs. Eisley was partial to. It started like this:
You’re a good man, Charlie Brown! You’re the kind of reminder we need.
You have humility, nobility, and a sense of honor that are very rare indeed.
Like a room smelling faintly of cat urine, there was something not quite right in the second line of the song. I never had time to dwell on it while we were singing the song, but by the end of the year, the song had been well-drilled into my head. The teacher had even had us memorize it, replacing Charlie Brown with the name of the school principal, who was retiring, and we sang it to him at a ceremony during the last week of school. So like the herpes virus, the melody is permanently lodged in my brain, poised to flare up as an earworm every now and then. Unfortunately, only about half the words have stayed with me, so that when the song is running through my head, I can’t get the full satisfaction of singing the whole thing. What I do get is the irritation of whatever is bothering me about that second line. But now, I know what the problem is.
So you know how, after a while of smelling the cat urine that you can’t get a fix on, you get one of those ultraviolet lights? And you turn out the lights and walk around shining the UV light on the floor and you can finally see the source of the problem? Next to the bookshelf … and in front of the closet … and behind the garbage can? Of course you do. A syntax course in graduate school was my urine-detecting ultraviolet light for “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”. I’ll shine the light on the offending spot next time. Until then, do you smell it, too?